The topic of driving is one that puts fear into the most seasoned caregiver. The issue isn’t only taking away the keys to a car—it’s dealing with the loss of independence someone feels when they’re no longer able to drive on their own.
Q: My father’s doctor has indicated that dad will soon no longer be fit to drive. I know I’ll eventually have to take away his keys, but I’m really afraid to broach the subject. How can I have this conversation with him?
A: Think back to when you first got your driver’s license. You probably felt liberated and in full control of your life. Now, imagine being a full-grown adult and having this freedom suddenly taken from you.
The course of Alzheimer’s disease makes it so that driving privileges will need to be revoked eventually. Because the disease impairs judgment, the individual may not realize their driving is unsafe. If their safety, and that of others, is at risk, you must act immediately.
The conversation won’t always go smoothly. Be prepared to be met with anger and resistance. Be strong and react with empathy. Remember that you’re asking (in a way, telling) someone to give up a right they’ve had for most of their adult life. It can be a shock to be on the receiving end of this news.
-If you suspect your loved one is experiencing difficulties behind the wheel, you may want to arrange for a driving assessment. These tests are often conducted by an occupational therapist with experience in cognitive impairment issues. A simulation or other type of testing can assess the individual’s capabilities to function on the road. (Note: driving assessments are not available in all areas.)
-Don’t come at it directly from a liability point of view (i.e. “You can’t drive any more because of your disease”). Stress the positives such as not having to sit in rush hour, saving on gas and car maintenance, not needing to clean off the car in the winter, etc.
Signs the person is having difficulties driving: Errors at intersections, confusing brake and gas pedals, anger or confusion while driving, forgetting familiar places and a poor or shorter attention span.
– Avoid saying, “You can’t do this anymore.” That only invites confrontation. Point out that Alzheimer’s, along with the natural progression of aging, makes it more challenging to pay attention to things (i.e. cars) coming from the side; reflexes may be slower affecting reaction times; confusion may lead to misplacing the car in a parking garage, etc.
– Play the “what if” game with hypotheticals such as, “What would you do if a child darted out in front of the car?” Having the person think through these types of scenarios can help them realize the severity of the situation.
– Get them to see the situation from a different point of view. Dementia expert Teepa Snow has a resourceful and innovative piece of advice: What if your loved one got into an accident with another driver? If somehow the diagnosis of dementia was disclosed, the driver of the other car may take your loved one to court for negligent driving. The probability of financial losses may convince the individual to stop driving.
Tips if the conversation doesn’t go well the first few times. Next
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Medical disclaimer: The advice given in this column is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.